Re: If we do get Afghanistan, what shall we do with it?

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Mon Nov 19 2001 - 08:25:48 MST

On Mon, Nov 19, 2001 at 09:15:22AM -0500, Alex F. Bokov wrote:
> What degree of cultural engineering is necessary or desirable in
> Afghanistan?
The question presupposes that cultural engineering is *possible*. With
all due respect, I don't believe it is -- at least, not in this context.
The west has _not_ conquered and occupied Afghanistan. All that's happend
is that the Taliban's morale has broken and their old rivals have scored
some victories in the civil war that's been raging for about fifteen
years. The cities are honey-traps; they don't actually have a significant
industrial base, and actually nailing the Taliban will require occupying
the country and cutting off their recruiting base.

This doesn't mean the Taliban can win, any more than the Khmer Rouge
could in 1978 (after Vietnam responded to their cross-border terrorist
activities by invading). But it doesn't make them a non-factor, either.
Look at how thoroughly the Khmer Rouge screwed Cambodia over the next
couple of decades for an example of what _could_ happen if we break out
the champagne prematurely.

> Should we be satisfied merely with a government that no longer gives
> safe harbor to Al Quaida? Or should we strive for more, like respect
> for free speech, privacy, elected and accountable government, equal
> protection under the law (in particular, equal rights for women)?
Afghanistan isn't a country with a distinct national and cultural
identity; the nearest analogy I can come up with is Yugoslavia. It has
traditionally been a crossroads between Empires, and has a population
of tribal groups who in many cases don't even speak the same language
and who hate each other virulently.

Into this mix, add religious beliefs of a remarkably fanatical variety,
shored up by the religious schools in Pakistan who are bankrolled by
rich Arabian Wahabbites. Then add an illiteracy rate of 70% among
men, rising to 90% among women.

You can't educate people who can't read and don't speak your language.

I therefore conclude that if our governments decided to opt for social
engineering, and reform, it'll take two whole generations to re-program
enough of the population to ensure stability and liberalism. Two generations,
moreover, without a running guerilla war or the jackboot of foreign infidel
oppression for the mullahs to rail against.

Given that the political horizon in the west is about two years away, I
don't hold out much hope of this happening. It's far too much of a long-
term committment for a democracy to undertake. Now, the Soviet government
could conceive of such projects, but they weren't hampered by the short-
termism of western politicians.

> If we opt for the latter, are we being cultural imperialists, since
> this is blatantly not consistant with their way of life, particularly
> the last item? In such cases, is it necessarily wrong to be a cultural
> imperialist?
Stop brow-beating yourself and start worrying about the effect dealing
with barbarians is going to have on _our_ core values. Speaking as a
hard- core liberal, I'm more worried about detention without judicial
review and military tribunals getting a toe-hold in the west than I am
about western values teaching the poor tribesmen how to read and write.

-- Charlie

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